“Mina Namous for Minister!”
After less than a year online, the “Jeune vie algéroise” blog (Young Algerian Life) has generated truckloads of enthusiastic comments from fans who cannot praise its young female author enough. Although the topics dealt with are far from revolutionary (Ramadan, weddings, a day at the beach…), the acerbic posts of the young “tchitchi” (upper-class girl) with her caustic take on social conventions attract 10,000 readers every month. We interviewed her in Algiers.
Mina is very cautious not to reveal her true identity.
Mina is very cautious not to reveal her true identity. When we met in a cafe close to her workplace, she immediately insisted we spoke as quietly as possible and that the notes taken be cryptic so no one could eavesdrop on our conversation. She then laughed at herself and explained: “When I arrived at work the day after my first radio interview, I was kind of expecting my workmates to go like, ‘Hey, I heard you on the radio yesterday!’” And although Mina never criticises her employer in her posts and only mentions her job in the most indirect way, “it could become a pain in the neck” were her colleagues to find out.
The number of her followers rose rapidly and she drew the attention of the national media.
Originally drawing her inspiration from French fashion websites “filled with sweet nothings” (Sophie Fontanel, Café mode), Mina started with a Facebook profile bearing her current pseudonym. After six or seven posts, readers and friends convinced her that she should start her own blog in order to widen her readership. The number of her followers rose rapidly and she drew the attention of the national media. After an interview in El-Watan Weekend and two appearances on radio programs, she even started receiving job offers.
“Girls and boys alike recognise themselves in my writing,” she says. From the hardships of love life in Algiers to a list of the 10 most-used sentences during the Ramadan fasting period, Mina highlights the hypocrisy of the society she grew up in, deriding it with subtlety. A skilled narrator, she knows how to sketch her characters and give her posts the shades of a genuine sociological fresco.
Mina highlights the hypocrisy of the society she grew up in, deriding it with subtlety.
“New readers have flocked in since the publication of the El-Watan interview, and one long-time reader has even hinted in her comments that she played a part in this blog’s striking success,” she says.
A real community has taken shape around the writings of the young woman. “Of course you end up forming attachments,” she says. “Since the beginning I became friends with three readers who were touched by my stories and wrote to tell me so. Blog readers also gather and meet by themselves.” Mina is open to outside writers and has given them a creative space in her blog under the section “l’invité de Mamzelle Namous” (“Miss Namous’s guest”). The criterion for selection is pretty straightforward: “If I like it, I post it!”
Mina asked the question “nobody dares asking”: is there a correlation between fasting and libido?
This is how the blog got spiced up by intimate contributions. For example, a young Algerian woman who currently lives in London self-deprecatingly narrates about the mercilessness of the dating world. Another young woman upon returning from France details her struggle and humiliation when she attempted to get a prescription for birth control pills.
‘We like you, it’s funny, but religion is sacred, come on!'”
On the flip side of success, some of her writings on sex and religion are not to everyone’s taste. In her post “Silence on jeûne” (“Be quiet during fasting”), for example, Mina asked the question “nobody dares asking”: is there a correlation between fasting and libido? “At the beginning, all of my readers were very supportive,” she remembers. “Now it has more become like, ‘We like you, it’s funny, but religion is sacred, come on!'”
For some time now, criticism from within the blog has been growing increasingly prominent. “Nasty comments dirty the space, even for readers,” Mina says. “Of course I could moderate more often, but I don’t really feel like striking back with censorship. I’ve only done that three times until now and that was for outrageously vulgar comments. In informal conversations everybody is speaking about these things. Why wouldn’t I write about them? Why not write about what touches us in our daily life in Algeria?” she asks.
Like everywhere else on the net, anonymity encourages hecklers to give way to their aggression. “Some people have gone so far as to tell me to leave my country or my religion,” Mina recalls. “‘Leave my blog!’ is what I feel like telling them.”
It is difficult to pick one amongst Mina’s numerous blog posts. But the following is a translation of “Mariage et envie d’enterrement” (“Burial wishes at the wedding”):
It’s summertime. People are getting married and we… Well, we watch them get married.
You don’t really want to go to these weddings but, as your parents keep on reminding you, if you don’t go to theirs nobody will come to yours in a few years time. And the idea of that. No way!
So it all started with the wedding of your plumber’s daughter. You don’t know her, but it happens to be non-negotiable: your parents insist on keeping good relations with the gentleman who unblocks your sink three times a year.
The plumber’s daughter is getting married in a far away, unknown land. Sidi Moussa, that is. So you get there wearing your silver high heels only to be confronted with what every young woman fears she may face one day: a non-mixed wedding party. Not even the odd video-camera wielding cousin. Chicks only. Had you known, you wouldn’t have gone to the lengths of buying yourself a push-up wonderbra. It’s not tonight you’ll break away from your single woman status.
As your mother enters the wedding hall, she is disappointed too. But but it doesn’t show and she immediately starts sporting an automatic smile on her face. And then you two are parted for a few hours.
Diner time has come. Because the plumber’s daughter wants to give you the full VIP treatment, you are being seated at the guests of honour table (and next to the electrician’s wife), right under the air conditioner, which is set to a blizzard mode. You are freezing to death and think you will end up dying of pneumonia. At the thought of it, tears start rolling down your cheeks. At this very moment, your mother’s smile freezes just a bit more as she kicks you under the table. People don’t weep at weddings, it seems. Unless you can make them believe that these are the tears of joy. But then again, you’ve never been very good at acting.
The bride is wearing a blonde wig and inches of make-up plastered on her face. Somebody is taking a picture of you two with your camera. You can still tell your friends that you were in London and that the wax statue standing next to you is Barbie at Madame Tussauds.
Translated from French to English by Gregory Dziedzic.